When first contacted, I was asked to talk on the topic of Merchandising in Libraries. I’ve done presentations on this subject since 2005, largely based on my 15 years experience in retail. I asked to be able to expand my focus to Marketing and Advocacy. These are all interrelated topics, but ultimately all are about making sure the library has a seat at the table when it comes to community service and funding.
I am so impressed with your library system. Your libraries are beautiful, full-service facilities and they appear admirably integrated within the communities they serve. I was able to visit two of your locations Monday, the Twin Hickory Area Library and the Glen Allen branch. Both are excellent facilities. Congratulations on your accomplishments. What I hope to do today is to throw ideas at you. Many of them you will no doubt already be familiar with. I’d like to start with an overview of the original topic of this keynote, merchandising, and then build on those ideas to talk a little about library MARKETING and ADVOCACY. Let’s start with some definitions. I’m going to give you my definitions of the three terms MERCHANDISING, MARKETING (WHICH INCORPORATES PROMOTION, ADVERTISING & PUBLIC RELATIONS) AND ADVOCACY. To help you remember them, I’ve paired them with a familiar movie image. This entire presentation will be available to you, so please don’t bother to take a lot of notes, unless you want to. Just sit back and take it in.
MERCHANDISING is the glitz and glitter than attracts people to all that you have in the library. Since it’s based on a commercial model of SELLING STUFF, it employs a lot of retail practices and techniques that have become quite popular in the past decade. Have you read Paco Underhill’s book WHY WE BUY? He is the guru of “shopping anthropology” and the President and CEO of Envirosell, a research and consulting firm that specialized in consumer behavior . Libraries have made enormous strides in MERCHANDISING. Your own HCPL branches show a keen grasp of some of the concepts I will review here.
MARKETING is a term which encompasses Promotion, Advertising and Public Relations, as I said. Libraries are getting pretty good at this, too. Newsletters, websites, email blasts, Facebook and other social media, and outreach activities are all MARKETING. I believe that libraries are often good at marketing to users, but not as good marketing to non-users and political decision-makers, two groups that often share membership. We’ll talk about MARKETING to segmented audiences a bit later in this presentation.
Advocacy has been a recent and welcome trend in libraries. The American Library Association and PLA, the Public Library Association, have embraced the idea of Advocacy, and the PLA Toolkit, called Libraries Prosper by Sandra Nelson, is an outgrowth of the Gates Foundation Advocacy training offered in 2008. My definition of Advocacy, and my particular take on it, is based on my experiences working with Library Directors and Boards of Trustees in my home state of Kansas. We may not be as fortunate as you in many of our library settings. We often face indifferent or hostile municipal leaders, and find ourselves having to “make our case” often and creatively. I have no doubt that Advocacy skills are relevant and incredibly important to EVERY library, however. Let’s dive into some Merchandising ideas right now, beginning with the key element in any persuasive endeavor – the end user, or CUSTOMER. BTW, JFW, who we will hear more about later, says that she thinks the best way to refer to library patrons is with the term MEMBER.
This set of expectations is pretty much the same, all over the country. You can see very clearly that it is colored by people’s experience with retail, particularly with the “big bookstore” model popularized by Barnes & Noble and Borders. It also underscores the technological bent the general public has adopted. Smart phone and handheld devices are revolutionizing our world, and changing the library forever. And, of course, Americans love to eat and drink. Why not in libraries, too?
My contention is that libraries can give users the best of both worlds – traditional library services AND more cutting-edge, “Wow” factor stuff to keep them coming back. Libraries aren’t driven by profit, but they are driven by something just as potent and difficult to obtain – customer goodwill. In that sense, we, meaning libraries, are very much in competition with retailers and the commercial world. I think that the best way to keep our customers happy, and to ensure our libraries thrive, is to be ADVOCATES for the library.
Here is a list of things libraries inherently OWN. Regardless of how loaded the term “free” is, patrons understand that what we offer them is, in a meaningful way, free. Librarians enjoy very few props in our contemporary world, but one that we do earn, consistently, is that we are authoritative. People come to librarians for the straight scoop. And we usually have it. Libraries have come around to accepting that customer service is the key to long-term survival, and I am pleased to see that libraries, in general, offer a customer service experience to users that is the envy of most retail stores. Yes, we may still have some work to do, but libraries and librarians are in the business of helping people. And our public recognizes that fact. Finally, we have the advantage of ubiquity. Public libraries are wanted by the public, and they are demanded by the public, and so they tend to be part of even the smallest communities. Larger communities like yours have the blessing of many fine libraries.
So let’s start with the basics of MERCHANDISING your library. This is sort of the baseline you need to attain before you can focus on anything else.
Each library should reflect the values of its particular user community. In Henrico County, you have a number of new or newly remodeled facilities that have 21 st century amenities. This is what your users expect, and this is what you have provided. Computers and technology services are at a high level. And the libraries in your community are part of a 400 year old history that pre-dates the founding of our country. This is a pretty awesome thing to have as an asset.
I was pleased to see that self-checkout is part of your standard operating procedure. In my state, self-checkout is still relatively uncommon. But with the advent of low-cost, small-footprint self-check hardware, libraries should be jumping all over this trend. One thing to think about is how your library space can facilitate the use of self-service. Are your self-check machines in the right places in your library? Do you have enough of them? Do people know how to use them? Can they get help if necessary?
Let’s talk a little about library displays. Every library does displays, but often they aren’t very attractive and they aren’t very good. Why? Because they don’t follow some common sense merchandising principles: People like to INVITED. A “perfect” or highly elaborate display can often be off-putting. People don’t want to touch it. People like to be INTRIGUED. Instead of MYSTERY BOOKS use a simple phrase like “Whodunnit?” or one of my favorites, “Colonel Mustard in the Kitchen with a Candlestick.” Be creative, be funny, be literary, and let your patrons in on the fun. Make sure your display can be easily and readily restocked. A good display is one that is constantly in need of replenishing. So have plenty of understock and move those titles up to keep the display looking full.
Johnson County Library is a large system in our region that has similar demographics to Henrico County libraries. Two things they have instituted recently: 1. Floating collections – materials are no longer sent “home” to their owning branch. Rebalancing is done from time to time, but the constant shipping of materials back and forth has been dramatically reduced. 2. Catalog enhancement. Discovery interface. Bibliocommons overlay on their Sirsi Symphony catalog. Users can make their own lists, track what they’ve read and what they’d like to read, “follow” the recommendations of other patrons and librarians, add comments, create tags, and recommend titles to others.
Civilians are stressed for time – time is valuable. In general, their impression is that the library is slow and it takes time to use it. Folks don’t have time for a slower place during a busy day.
Civilians think that information is just floating around in the Cloud – it’s just there for the taking. They believe information is an unlimited, free commodity. Librarians think information is precious …it’s like love to us – we give it only to a few. We have to realize that or relationship to information is NOT the same one most people have. We need a more liberal and commodified view of information.
Civilians want to be self-reliant . “I can do it myself.” People have a desire to feel competent. Let them. Does allowing patrons to have more ownership of a library transaction run counter to our desire to feel professionally useful?
Civilians want to use the device they are comfortable with – they’re packing ‘heat’ and don’t want to switch over to yours…their tools integrate with their life and makes them feel confident. Smart phones are the bridge over the digital divide. More people own cell phones than own their own homes. We should be serving up what we do to as many smart phones as possible. The “killer app” for the library is the mobile app. Libraries should agonize over apps, not ILSs.
Deliver services instantly – whenever and wherever – real time! 24/7 is the new library service model. Ubiquity – You need to be where the people are. Go to them, don’t make them come to us. 24/7 Programs – Capture and re-purpose programming – podcast, put information on YouTube, Facebook – put it where the people are.
Civilians have reunited learning and pleasure – “I learn more when it’s fun” We are enjoying ‘ free choice learning ‘ Librarians are rediscovering fun, too. Check out xtranormal, a useful and very fun tool that lots of libraries are using.
Merchandising & Marketing Your Library Henrico County Public Library Third Annual Staff Development Day Mickey Coalwell, NEKLS, Lawrence, KS December 7-8, 2010
We provide comprehensive resources, innovative technologies and excellent services to enrich individual and community life.
We deliver excellent customer service through access to a variety of materials, innovative technologies and attractive facilities. We achieve high standards for courtesy, accuracy and timeliness. We anticipate and respond to the needs of a diverse community.
We are a library system that:
Believes public libraries are vital to the community;
Welcomes new ideas;
Fosters continuous learning;
Values leadership and professionalism; and
Plans for the future.
Merchandising Conscious efforts to make contents visible, and to encourage their use.
Marketing & Promotion Getting the word out that you can add value to people’s lives.
Advocacy A process by which those who are in a position to affect the delivery of library services are actively and personally engaged.
Fairfax (VA) County Executive Anthony H. Griffin has asked..the public library system to propose 15 percent reductions for fiscal 2011, on top of cuts of 15 percent or more this fiscal year…Griffin said, “Parks and libraries are essentially discretionary programs.”
“ Fiscal outlook grim for two Fairfax agencies,” by Derek Kravitz, Washington Post , November 15, 2009. Quoted in Transforming Our Image: No Explanation Needed, a webinar by Valerie J. Gross, presented by the Public Library Association, November 15, 2010.
How to move from “discretionary” to indispensable?
Marketing your library should include training and support for ALL STAFF at your library. Everyone who visits, phones, or connects online should receive friendly, helpful service. Every library employee, from the janitor to the Head of Reference, is equally responsible for providing an optimum library experience.
Marketing the VALUE of your library is a responsibility that shouldn’t be delegated to a specific job title or person. It's the responsibility of EVERYONE who works at the library to further its mission to serve the community.